Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Losing Nana

Much has changed since the last post.

Joe's mom, Jeanette, died on October 11th.  Her progression through cancer was so fast.  Unbelievably fast.  We were never given any predictions, and feared she was more sick than any doctor had realized, but never thought she could be gone so fast.

It's been a couple of weeks of shock, anger, sadness, denial, peace, joy, serenity, pain, loss, frustration, faith, togetherness, and acceptance.

Sophie had said a few weeks ago when Nana was put on a ventilator, "She's too young to die.  I'm too young to go through this.  I never thought I'd have to go through something like this."  As her parent, I tried to console and acknowledge that it's just hard.  But, in reality, I felt the same way.  I have kept this childlike faith that God somehow needs us on this earth still, and therefore his complete healing will come for all of us, no matter what we face.  I've always been glad that I've not had to face significant loss in my life, and naively believed it would stay that way for some time.  

Jeanette and I had similar dreams of beautiful houses in the country, watching the kids grow up, and loads of family together time.  In my perfect world, I envisioned owning property someday in the not-too-distant-future, where she and Pwa could build a house near ours, and maybe Christy too, if she wanted...and we'd make room for my parents if they wanted in on it.  And, I really felt good about that plan.  I felt God's pleasure in it.  And even in these last few months where she seemed to be struggling more and more, I looked forward to the times when she was post-treatment and I could lean on her again for help around the house, or to spend time with the kids, or even that I could call and chat about everything with her again soon.  Her cough had gotten so bad in the last couple of months, that I had stopped calling much because I didn't want her to go into a coughing fit again.  

When she got accepted into Cancer Treatment Center of America, we were thrilled.  Finally someone saw how weak and sick she was and just said, we need to hospitalize you to get you stronger so we can start treatment.  And she perked up for a couple of days.  They were trying to discharge her so she could start treatments.  But, a few nights into her stay, she started having really rough nights.  Joe's dad was with her non-stop.  On the last day she was in the normal hospital room, we took the kids up there to see her.  She was glad to see them, but was pretty out of it.  I was concerned, but we thought it must just be the Morphine she had just received making her seem that way.  She managed to smile at all the kids and kiss them each good-bye.  I went up to see her later by myself, and was pleased to see her much more alert.  She was laughing at the "funniest videos" show and enjoying herself.  I went home feeling better about her outlook, and frustrated that I allowed myself to be on this roller coaster based on how she was acting.

The next morning as we were loading in the car for church, Joe's dad called saying she'd had a really rough night and was in ICU, and they were putting her on a ventilator.  If he and Christy wanted to see her before she was sedated and unable to communicate, they better come quick.  

I can't explain the feeling of anxiety and dread in that moment.

While he was still on the phone, I knew something was wrong and told the girls in the car to pray.  It was an eternal moment.  One I'll never forget.  Jossie prayed with fervent passion, "God, show Nana how much you love her.  Give her peace and joy that makes her strong right now.  And just reach into her chest and grab that cancer and just flick it away!"  Norah and Sophie each prayed more solemnly that they wanted God to heal their Nana.  Then Sophie spoke up and said, "wait, I have one more prayer...God, it says in your Bible that you use the words of children and infants to stop the badness and bring healing, so we're asking that you please do that."  (That was from Psalm 8:2...I had taught it to her a while ago to help her see that God really cared about what she said, and that she had the ability to make a difference in her prayers...not realizing she'd remember it for this very purpose). Then they sang a worship song together (all on their own), "Light of the world, you stepped down into darkness.  Open my eyes, let me see.  Beauty that makes this heart adore you, hope of a life spent with thee. And here I am to worship, here I am to bow down, here I am to say that You're my God."  

By the time I got the kids dropped off with my amazing friends and made it back to the hospital, she was already on the vent.  She had some sweet moments with Joe and Joe and Christy, expressing her love, and acknowledging that her body was struggling.  I was so glad.  As the day wore on, she became more and more alert.  By that evening, she was using a white board to communicate her needs, or ask questions, like "Where's Jolly?" (A nickname for Joe's dad).  She never wanted him out of her sight, but was accepting when he was.  On Monday, they were talking about going ahead with chemo, to give her a chance to shrink the tumors and get off of the vent.  We took Sophie up to see her that night.  So glad we did.

She was AMAZING.  She struggles with people being sick sometimes, and struggles a lot with anxiety.  But, she and Nana had a very special relationship, and she was determined to see her.  She knew what to expect with the tubes, and her not being able to speak.  She marched right in there, hopped up on the chair next to Nana, kissed her hand and said cheerfully, "Hi Nana!"  Nana waved and smiled with her eyes.  Sophie and Joe and I sang a couple of songs over Nana: "Light of the world" and "Amazing Grace" with the last verse being our made up version of "sweet dreams, sleep tight, sweet Nana, good-night."  Not knowing, that this would be her last night.  As we were leaving and saying good-bye, Nana got Sophie's attention by waving, and then pointed to herself, then made an "L" with her hand, then pointed to Sophie.  

We all cried.

We feared she was saying good-bye with that "I love you."

The next morning came the call that her body was shutting down and nothing more could be done.  My amazing friends came over to the house and I rushed up there not sure what I'd find.  I felt terrible for this sweet lady in the elevator who asked if everything was OK.  I hesitated, not knowing if she was a patient or family member, but I guess everyone there knows this is a hard road.  I told her that we were about to lose someone.  She was quiet, but then gave me a hug.  Such a sweet place at that center, but it has to be so hard to see so many people die, when you're clinging to hope.  

That day went so fast.  I thought it might still be a day or two before she was gone, and maybe that's how long she could have miserably struggled while on full life-support.  She was so, so miserable.  And looked so much worse than the night before.  Just awful.  I never want to see someone struggling that much again.  Cancer is an evil that is beyond words.  

She was still alert.  She had been told by the doctors that there was nothing they could do, and she wrote on her board, "make me comfy".  She never looked afraid.  She looked ready.  She looked with love at her two children and her husband.  She gave me a knowing look as I came tear-streaked running into the room to hold her hand and say "I love you."  She waved a "see you later" wave to our sweet pastor as he left the room. We didn't realize that as soon as the doctor had the meeting with us explaining that there was nothing they could do, that they would come in and turn off her blood-pressure medicine.  They also gave her some Valium, and Pwa held her hand and explained that they were making her comfortable and we were going to tell her what we wanted her to hear before she couldn't hear us anymore.  And we did.  We told her how wonderful she was, and how much we would miss her, and how we knew our lives were bound to improve with her up there interceding for us all, and that we loved her so much.  And within about 10 minutes of the medicine stopping, her heart also stopped.  

You're just never prepared for a moment like that.  Or for the moments that follow, like funeral home arrangements, and picking out clothes for her body, and searching for jewelry, and bawling over her cute clothes, some still stained with whatever she ate last...and finding it all so precious...seeing the gifts your kids made for her, neatly stored in places of honor...needing to call her to ask her just one more question...needing to call her to laugh about how our husbands have been so goofy...needing to call to tell her about the latest illness or trip to the doctor with my kids, and hearing her sincere concern.  Just never prepared.  

I really, really loved her.  

I had this beautiful relationship with her, especially given that she was my mother-in-law, and those relationships by nature are not normally beautiful.  We were like best friends (next to her kids and husband of course).  We talked all the time.  She was there for me in so many ways.  The loss is huge.  

Jude still watches for her to come in when Pwa walks into the house.  He hugs him, and then stares at the door.  He adored her.  They all did.  She was at everything they did.   

To add to this immense pain, is the fact that her 91 year-old, healthy and strong mother has now lost 3 children to cancer.  3 of her four children.  There are no words for that.  It's not fair, and it's not OK, and it never will be.  And yet, though I know her heart is broken, she never questions God.  Never.  

And I ache for all of them. For my sweet husband, who is a good man, and didn't deserve to lose his mama that he adored.  For my father-in-law and sister-in-law.  The loss for them is unfair.  For my kids, and Christy's kids.  Will they all remember her?  At what point will the void be so real and obvious to them?  Oh, how I wish she would have been at each of their weddings. 

And I want to sum this all up with some rosy conclusion.  But, I don't have it yet.  I am at total peace that she is truly in heaven and is happy, and gets to love on the Father face-to-face.  I don't doubt that reality for a moment.  I'm not yet resolved as to why it happened so soon though.  Still wrestling that one out.  I want to keep the child-like faith...I really do.

The only silver lining to her suffering so immensely in the end, was the opportunity to tell her over and over how loved she was.  She didn't want to go.  She wanted to be in this life, and watch those grand-kids grow up.  On the last day as Joe pleaded with God, he felt the Lord tell him He wanted to heal her completely and show her how much He loved her.  Lucky Nana.

The kids have handled their grief in different ways.  Norah was scared and upset for a few minutes, and hasn't said much more.  Jossie very quickly moved to just being happy for Nana that she gets to see Jesus, and gets a beautiful home in Heaven.  And since she knows Nana's with Jesus, and Jesus lives in our hearts, she's pretty excited to think Nana lives there too now, and we can just take her everywhere we go.  Sophie is a quiet griever, much like her daddy and her Nana.  She shows it in behaviors sometimes, but if you can get a quiet moment with her to push her a little in understanding the grief, she reveals things like: "Nana was going to teach me a few notes on her guitar.  I was really looking forward to that...sometimes when I need a sad moment, I just think about the guitar and I cry."

Me too, sweetie..Me too.